Tag Archives: shortening

Know Your Fat! (Part Deux)

6 Nov
That's what I'm talkin' about!

That is what I'm talkin' about!

When last we spoke, I talked just a bit about butter, shortening, lard and oil as fats used in baking.  Not only do all four of these products look, taste and smell different, they also behave differently in baked goods.

For the purposes of a post of reasonable length, and also because oil and lard are used less frequently than are butter and shortening, let’s just look at those two and the way substituting one for the other can effect a final product.

As I said in Part 1, butter has some water in it, along with some milk solids.  It is very firm under refrigeration but is nice and plastic at about 68 degrees, F.  Once it starts to melt, it melts very quickly.  Shortening, on the other hand, is 100% hydrogenated vegetable fat.  It behaves about the same at refrigeration temperatures as it does at cool room temperature.  It begins to melt at a slightly higher temperature than butter, and it tends to melt more slowly.

So what?  Well, let’s say you’re making some oatmeal cookies.  You make 1/2 with butter and 1/2 with shortening.  The ones you make with the butter will be crisper at the edges and a little chewy, will spread a fair bit and will be nicely browned.  The ones you make with the shortening will be softer and puffier, a bit lighter in color, and they won’t spread as much.

This is why: the water in the butter mixes with the flour in the recipe, forming some gluten.  Gluten=chewy cookie.  The butter melts to a thin liquid quickly.  Melted fat=lots of spread=thin cookie.  The milk solids brown in the oven.  Browned milk solids=well, you know, brown cookies.

Since there is no water in the shortening to mix with the flour, there won’t be any gluten development, and you’ll get a more tender cookie.  Since the shortening melts at a higher temperature and more slowly than butter, the cookies will tend to hold their shape and be puffy, rather than thin.  No milk solids to brown=lighter cookies.

I’m not a fan of shortening, although if you want to refrigerate your cookies, they won’t get too hard if you’ve made them with shortening.  I like the way butter tastes.  The way it behaves is part of its charm.  Knowing how it behaves gives us some power to make it behave the way we want.

If you use all-butter but don’t want a thin cookie, refrigerate the dough before baking, and make sure you’re baking on a cool cookie sheet.  If you have to re-use a sheet, make sure you let it cool before placing more dough.  If you want a thinner cookie, have your dough closer to room temperature.  If you’re portioning your cookies with a disher, make sure to press down on the balls to flatten them a bit.  They’ll spread more evenly if you do.

I thought two parts was enough.  But I have ideas.  Part Trois coming up later!  Don’t be shy–leave a comment.  Butter or shortening?  Cookies or cake?  Whatever is on your mind (within reason)!

Know Your Fat! (Part 1)

5 Nov
Something to sink your teeth into...

Something to sink your teeth into...

As far as I am concerned, fat is essential, both in cooking and in baking.  Even an extremely fit person has maybe 5% body fat, so I am comfortable with this statement:-)  Fat does amazing things in foods:  it is a medium for heat transfer, as in deep-frying, but it also carries flavors, add depth and richness to a dish and assists in the rise of baked goods (see:  creaming method)

What type of fat you use can significantly effect the flavor and final texture of your baked good.  Here is an abbreviated fat primer for your enjoyment:

Butter:  I will say it–I love butter.  Butter is a natural product and contains fewer trans-fats than margarine.  But, I’ll get down off of that soapbox before I get good and riled up.  Butter is a solid at room temperature.  By USDA standard, butter contains at least 80% butterfat.  The remaining 20% or so is composed of milk solids and water.  It has a relatively low melting point, and once it starts to melt, it melts quickly.

Lard:  Not used so much in cooking these days, our grandmothers used lard for everything from frying chicken to making pie crusts.  It has a crystalline fat structure that makes it perfect for making a the flakiest pie crust ever.  Lard is 100% fat and should have a clean, fairly neutral flavor.

Shortening:  Shortening is a man-make hydrogenated fat that is 100% fat.  It is a solid at room temperature, and it melts fairly slowly at temperatures somewhat higher than butter.

Cooking Oil:  Is comprised of 100% fat and is liquid at room temperature.  Depending on the oil, it may or may not solidify or thicken under refrigeration and it may or may not contain saturated fat.

And now we conclude this portion of Know Your Fat!  Stay tuned for Part 2, in which we discuss the pros and cons of using each kind of fat in the pastry kitchen.  Please weigh in (thank you–I’ll be here all week)!  What’s your favorite fat?  Or do you try and stay away from all of it?  I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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